Six Tips to Adapt to Doctor Directed Orthodontics
Orthodontists and dentists have recently been faced with a new market challenge from companies like Candid and Smile Direct Club. These companies provide patients with doctor directed orthodontic treatment. The term doctor directed treatment – created by these organizations – means that patient care is provided through telemedical services versus direct personal interaction with a dentist or orthodontist.
The Doctor Directed Treatment Process
Patients begin the doctor directed treatment by purchasing a kit (available either via mail or in certain pharmacy and retail locations). The kit enables patients to take their own impressions and provides directions uploading their photos. In select geographies, patients also have the option to visit a storefront where a 3D scan and intraoral photos are acquired. Once proper records are complete, either a dentist or orthodontist will evaluate the impressions and photos to determine if the patient is a candidate for treatment. For appropriate cases, clear aligners are fabricated and mailed to the patient. Some services offer the opportunity to upload photos or have video evaluations as treatment progresses.
There is currently much debate about the effectiveness, outcomes and legality of this type of treatment. This article is not meant to delve into the current challenges these companies face. However, the American Academy of Orthodontics has ordered a consumer alert, and other state organizations as well as local practices warn patients about potential pitfalls of doctor directed treatment. Candid, Smile Direct Club and other companies are aggressively responding to these challenges.
The Future of Doctor Directed Treatment
Based on trends from other markets, doctor directed orthodontic treatment is going to become a larger player in the market. Many technology companies, at their inception, face production, legal and technical challenges that seem near impossible to overcome. Yet successful companies solve these challenges because they have developed a product which the market demands.
As dental services have become more commoditized, the patient market is demanding less expensive and more accessible service. Doctor directed orthodontics answers this demand. And, though some would argue doctor directed orthodontics is not perfected in its current iteration, the technology, patient process, and customer service will improve, enabling more predictable outcomes and more satisfied patients.
How can General and Orthodontic Practices Remain Competitive?
In order to remain competitive, orthodontist should be able to adapt to the changing market, rather than resist it.
- Provide an enhanced level of service to a target market. The doctor directed model is not a fit for every patient. Patients who demand a greater level of personal service or who prefer personal interaction are great target patients for orthodontists. Attract these patients by determining how you and your team can provide an enhanced experience This could be as simple as extending or altering hours, offering Uber rides to patients coming to and from the practice, or adding services like teeth whitening after treatment.
- Use the doctor directed orthodontic companies as a referral source. Not all cases can be completed through the doctor directed process. Most companies providing doctor directed treatment will refer patients that are not candidates to local orthodontists. Become involved with these organizations to find out how your practice can benefit from them.
- Maintain and acquire new referral relationships with pediatric and general dentists. Most dentists will understand the case limitation of doctor directed orthodontics. Enhancing your relationship with other providers will insure that they continue referring these pediatric and complex cases to your practice
- Showcase your clinical expertise. Patients understand that doctor directed orthodontics provides limited access to a care provider. Demonstrating your clinical expertise, both online an in-office, by displaying before and after photos, case studies, and continuing education, enables patients to feel confident that visiting your practice is providing additional value, worth extra money and time.
- Charge reasonable and fair fees for the service your providing. Most companies will perform market research to determine what the market will accept as a reasonable fee for a product. Of course, there is always a range of fees that are acceptable. However, if your practice is charging close to or outside the reasonable range, it may result in patients leaving your practice for a competitor. 3D technologies, Invisalign and doctor directed orthodontics already have and will further impact the reasonable range of fees. If you haven’t examined your fees lately, evaluate the market to determine what might be reasonable in your geographic region based on the current market.
- Offer patients more payment options through third party payment partners, like CareCredit. Even when patients have budgeted for orthodontic care, they prefer to have competitive payment arrangement for treatment. Many of the doctor directed orthodontic companies are partnering with third party payment partners that offer patients affordable monthly payments with little to no interest. If your practice is not able to compete by offering similar payment options, prospective patients will visit another practice or choose the doctor directed process.
Attempting to resist or fight doctor directed orthodontic companies is not the solution to ensuring your practice remains competitive in the future. Resisting the idea of doctor directed orthodontics is similar to taxi and Uber drivers resisting a change to self-driving cars. Though currently slowed by legal and technical challenges the doctor directed market is growing rapidly. And, based on indications from other markets, as well as from the dental market, one would expect continued growth.
Venture capitalists, investment firms, technology companies, and dental organizations are all investing large sums of money into this market segment. In addition, the patient demand is present to create a successful doctor directed orthodontic ecosystem within dentistry. Evaluating, understanding, and adapting to how this type of treatment will impact your practice will enable your practice to remain successful during this market shift.